With so many children, I’ve really had to get organized when it comes to buying, storing, and shipping Christmas gifts. Here are several miscellaneous tips:
Ask each family member to write a Wish List. Then have them mark each item whether it is "gotta have", "would be great" or "nice but not necessary". Make sure they are specific if they want a certain brand or title of something. Have them copy their final version onto an index card. Using the Wish Lists and your budget (made with your husband), write out a list of what you plan to buy or make for each one. Do each person’s list on a separate index card or notebook page. Also, list relatives and friends, and what you intend to do for them. Finally, list Christmas extras, such as outdoor lights, craft supplies, etc. Estimate prices and add it all up to make sure you won’t go over budget. Allow some buffer for special deals, bad estimates, forgotten items, etc. Then make a list of items for each store that you intend to visit.
Make a Christmas shopping organizer for your purse. Take a manila file folder and open it up so that the crease goes vertically up the middle. Now fold about four inches of the bottom edge up so that makes a pocket. Tape the edges of the pocket on the left and right hand sides. Next, fold the left side in almost half way, and do the same with the right side. Now you have a four panel pocket folder that will probably fit in your purse. Use one section for Wish List index cards, another section for your Shopping Plan index cards, another section for Coupons and Ads and the final section for Receipts. As you buy things, you can check them off your list and add them to a running total.
Wear an extra large hip pack on your shopping trips. This takes stress off your shoulder (if you usually wear a purse) or reduces risk of theft (if you usually leave it in your cart or on your stroller). I like the hip pack because it keeps my hands free for dealing with purchases, packages and children.
If at all possible, go shopping without your children. If you don’t have a teenager or nearby relative who can babysit for you, try arranging with another mom to trade childcare for a few hours at a time. When you do go shopping with children (like when THEY are doing some shopping), remember that stores are very busy and that there may be criminals lurking about waiting for an opportunity to snatch a child. Keep your young ones with you!
Christian books, music and videos make excellent holiday gifts since they can encourage someone in the faith. I have always done a major chunk of my shopping at Christian bookstores, especially using discount cards or coupons. If you want to get great Christian stuff for a good price on-line, try Christian Book Distributors.
When you get your goodies home, you have to store them out of sight and out of reach! I label a large paper bag for each family member (either a grocery bag or an old gift bag), open it up so that it stands by itself, and put it on my closet shelf. When needed, I can take it all down and see what I have and what I still need. I've also been known to stash Christmas presents in a large plastic (not clear) bin in my closet, which is strictly off-limits in December.
When it's time to wrap, work in piles. If you have several children, you might need to check and be sure you have an equitable amount of gifts per child. We don't spend huge amounts of money on our kids -- maybe $25 per child -- but I do try to get each of the younger ones several things, even if some of them are from the dollar store. So some of them may have less packages to open because one or two of their items are a bit more expensive. When I have finished all of my shopping, I lock my bedroom door and get out all of the presents. Then I start creating a pile for each child. I make sure it all looks pretty fair, sometimes shifting an item from one child's pile to another, or deciding that two or more kids can share a larger gift like a game that needs more than one player. Sometimes, if one child has a whole bunch of smaller items, I bundle them together. Older siblings often help me wrap, so I just put their stuff out of sight before letting them in the room.
Establish a Christmas wrapping station stocked with paper, tape, ribbons, gift tags, scissors, etc. Give your kids lessons on how to wrap efficiently so they don’t waste too much paper. Or design your own paper and tags with finger paints or rubber stamps. Let your older children assist your younger ones with wrapping presents for Mom and Dad. If you have bulky or unusually shaped items, try putting them in pillowcases and tying the top with a ribbon. If you will be mailing packages, be sure to have cardboard boxes and something like bubble wrap to protect the contents.
A few words about postage: You can call the post office at 1-800-ASK-USPS or log on to the web site at http://www.usps.gov/ to find out the cost for mailing any package. You will need to know the weight in pounds and ounces (use your kitchen scale for this), your zip code and the zip code of the destination. If you stock up on lots of postage stamps ahead of time ($1, 10 cent and 1 cent), you can avoid lots of trips to the post office this way. You can also let your children practice "place value" math concepts by deciding which stamps to use. If your package contains ONLY "media", which includes bound printed matter (books, magazines, calendars, and such, but not catalogs or loose papers), audio cassettes, CDs or videos, then you can send it cheaper but may take a little longer to deliver. You must mark these packages as "MEDIA RATE." Also check the price of Priority Mail -- sometimes it costs only a few pennies more than First Class. And always be sure to allow plenty of time for your packages to get there! If the contents of your package are valuable, check into insuring it. It doesn’t cost that much extra. Or, skip out on shipping packages entirely by ordering on-line and having them mailed directly to the recipient.
I hope these ideas help make your Christmas shopping season a little easier!